The next battle: Who will reconstruct southern Lebanon?
The proprietor of Cuba Libre is fed up with the war. A short and ruinous attack by the Israeli air force on the Ashrafiyeh quarter of Beirut made it clear to him that he would have to wait until next year to see summer profits. Cuba Libre is a popular nightclub, where every Thursday people dance to salsa music played by a local band. Guest performers are hosted on Fridays and Saturdays, and on the other days the DJ reigns.
Summer is the high season at this club, like the rest of the food and entertainment establishments in Beirut. Visitors from Europe and the Gulf States, along with locals, fill the coffers, which are supposed to last through hard times as well - such as Ramadan or the chilly winter season. The patrons of these cafes believed that this year too they would be able, as in the past, to participate in the war over cocktails and a profound and serious discussion of Lebanon's future. But suddenly there ware bombs overhead.
However, Cuba Libre's proprietor, like those of the Sheba Club, the fast-food restaurant Diwan al-Hashem or Dunkin' Donuts, did not give up easily. They closed their Beirut locations, but immediately opened new branches in Christian towns far from the capital where, they believed, Israel would not strike. Thus, for example, a branch of Cuba Libre opened in the town of Qali'at, eight kilometers from the city of Junia, in northern Lebanon. The proprietor rented a space, decorated it quickly, added lighting, brought the staff from Beirut and started serving beer and wine to visitors.
And who are the customers? All of those refugees who arrived from Beirut and from the bombed towns in the south. Qali'at is a favorite vacation destination among the wealthy of Beirut, some of whom have summer homes there. It also has historical relevence: The Maronite Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir was born there, as was Eli Hubeika, the phalangist who changed from a friend to an enemy. The Taif agreement signed in 1989 was ratified in Qali'at.
Now it is the refuge of partyers and bohemians until it becomes clear the cease-fire is holding. In the meantime Cuba Libre's proprietor can make a living, pay decent wages of about $6,000 a month, and continue covering rent in Beirut. If anyone was looking for additional proof of Lebanese entrepreneurship, then here it is, in the mountains near Junia.
At the other end of the new food chain engendered by the war are the refugees from the south. Some of them know they have lost all of their property; others do not know where they will go when things calm down. On Monday the journey back to southern Lebanon had already begun, a profound expression of residents' belief that the cease-fire would hold. But there are also those who have seen a different world in Lebanon due to the war.
Bissan al-Sheikh, a correspondent for the London-based newspaper Al Hayat, reported, for example, that a number of the refugees from the south who had fled to Junia did not wait for the cease-fire or spend time relaxing in the sun, but immediately started looking for new jobs - and found them. One man found work with a gas distribution company, where he was earning more than he had at home in the south, she reported. Others found jobs at printing houses, cafes or construction sites in the city. Apart from the new intimate contact between the southerners and the northerners - Christians or Muslims, Sunnis or Shi'ites - a new system of economic opportunities has emerged.
One of the outstanding examples is in the labor market. In a country that suffers from an official unemployment rate of 15 percent, the cheap workers until now were mainly Syrians, Egyptians or Asians. The war sent most of the foreign workers packing in alarm, and more importantly - for the Lebanese - thousands of Syrian workers fled the country, especially from the Beirut area. After the IDF bombed the Bekaa and killed 33 workers, mostly Syrian Kurds, the laborers fled this area, too. In this the war did a service to everyone in Lebanon who called for the nationalization of the labor force and the eviction of the Syrian workers, who represent the continuation of Syrian control in Lebanon.
Nationalization of labor is a nice slogan, but it does not help the farmers in the south and the Bekaa who, like their peers in the Galilee, found themselves in the height of the growing season with trees full of fruit and no one to harvest it. And thus, an entire season's harvest has gone down the drain. Even if some farmers did manage to pick their cherries, no one was willing to take the risk of transporting them to the market in Beirut.
Now the tobacco planting season is starting in Lebanon, and thousands of dunams are waiting for the planters, who are waiting in Syria. The Bekaa valley and southern Lebanon are both controlled by Hezbollah, and the question remains of who will compensate those farmers - the government, which has received $1.5 billion from Saudi Arabia, or Hezbollah, which holds a lot of money in banks in Lebanon and elsewhere.
$3 billion in damage
It appears that compensation for war damages will be the next battlefield between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government. According to the government's Council for Development and Rehabilitation, the country has suffered a total of $3 billion in damage. A large part of this, about $400 million, is to roads, and the rest is divided between damage to the electricity infrastructure (about $180 million), residential buildings and bridges, and industries and services. There are no figures yet for indirect damages, although it is clear that the current tourism year died even before it was born.
Apart from damage to bridges and roads, most of the damage was to Shi'ite areas controlled by Hezbollah, such as the southern neighborhood of Beirut and villages in the south, some of which will need to be fully rebuilt. This is an opportunity for the Lebanese government to regain civil - not only military - control in areas where it relinquished its powers to Hezbollah. This means that the government, not Hezbollah, will have to invest directly in the injured regions, and not via the movement's institutions.
But here it is liable to encounter the same difficulty it is facing in disarming Hezbollah.
In the best case, the organization will demand money in return for withdrawing militarily from southern Lebanon, so that it will be able at least to retain its civilian control in the south. In the worst case, the organization will not allow the government to rehabilitate the villages and will do so with its own resources. It will demand that the government compensate it in other ways, such as via tenders in non-Shi'ite locations.
Thus it will be able to enjoy the best of both worlds - it will continue controlling the southern region and the Bekaa directly, and will also receive government funding, even for rebuilding its Beirut headquarters and maintaining its arsenal, on either bank of the Litani River.